Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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December 10, 2012

Expert says Texas standardized test isn't too hard

AUSTIN — A state expert denied Monday that Texas made its latest standardized test too difficult, saying such exams have always gotten harder but that students still tend to improve their scores over time.

Testifying at the sweeping school finance trial before state District Judge John Dietz was Texas Education Agency director of student assessment Gloria Zyskowski. She was shown sample questions from Texas standardized tests given to ninth graders in 1982.

To make the point about how much more difficult such exams have become through the years, Zyskowski said such questions weren't likely to even appear on today's tests for third graders.

Texas has been sued by more than 600 school districts responsible for educating three-quarters of the state's more than 5 million students. They claim that the way schools are funded is so inadequate and unfair that it violates state constitutional guarantees.

The state Legislature voted in 2011 to reduce funding to public schools by $5.4 billion even though Texas' booming population has seen enrollment grow by 80,000 students annually. Districts say the cuts have been especially devastating amid Texas' implementation of new student accountability measures built on a more-difficult standardized test known as STAAR.

Zyskowski, who once said at a conference that STAAR would be "really, really hard," denied in court that the passing standards were set too high. She noted that teachers and other educators had been part of the committees that set the standards.

Students took STAAR for the first time last year. Under state law, high school students must get a passing average on 15 end-of-course STAAR tests to graduate. There are three exams each in math, science, social studies, reading and writing.

The task will get more difficult in coming years because officials set passing standards relatively low when STAAR was given for the first time but will gradually make them harder.

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